Strength. Flexibility. Balance. The movement triple play. And the greatest of these is? When we’re young it’s all about strength. How much can you lift? How fast can you go? Then maintaining flexibility comes more to the fore to hold the aches and pains at bay. But the loss of which of the three takes you down? And fast? Losing your balance. As we age, balance issues threaten hip fractures and constrain mobility. Elder survival rates after a hip fracture are scary poor. All three movement elements are necessary and none alone are sufficient. But we have well-developed advocates and routines for strength and flexibility. From the gym to Pilates and yoga to Peloton and many more. Nearly every community has a multitude of strength and flexibility offerings. The outlier? We need more balance, like a dancer.
Dancers Know Balance
Pursing that need, we found Better Balance for Life, a book by balance advocate and expert, Carol Clements. A new addition to our Aging With Freedom® Book Club. Take a guess. What profession is trained in balance as a complement to strength and flexibility? Dancers. And that’s Carol’s career. A professional New York City modern dancer turned yoga instructor turned author. She teaches how to balance like a dancer.
Her book offers a straightforward ten-week plan to improve balance through simple exercises integrated into your everyday activities. For instance, use the time you’re brushing your teeth to also improve your balance. Imagine brushing your teeth while standing on one foot. A bit like patting your head and your belly simultaneously. You can do it. But it takes practice. Better Balance for Life is a relatively fast, easy read. It’s heavily illustrated with easy-to-follow drawings or illustrations. Some of the exercises are harder to do than is first apparent. But that’s the point. You progress from the easier to the harder over the course of the book and time.
The unifying thread for strength, flexibility, and balance is posture. It turns out how you carry yourself matters to all three measures of the movement triple play. Want to balance like a dancer? It requires integrating strength and flexibility.
We read. A lot. On a variety of topics involving self-improvement in wealth, health, and attitude. One notable thing about Better Balance for Life? It’s sticking with us. Far better than Dad saying, “Stand-up straight.” Somehow, we never found Dad’s command particularly instructive about what exactly to correct. But it turns out Dad was right. Parents often are. Posture matters.
Balance for Life Rules or Mantras
By contrast? Carol’s guiding mantras work. At least for us. We’re constantly referencing and reciting these to keep what we learned from Carol in our thoughts and actions. Some of Carol’s posture rules:
- Helium Head – assure proper alignment of head, shoulders, and hips. Pretend your head is a helium balloon. (Similar to the hanging by a thread from the top of your head rule.)
- Arms belong to the back (not your chest) – avoid that shoulders rolled forward look and the pains that come with it.
- Abdominal muscles connect the upper body and lower body – and require tension to counterbalance the back. (That dancer’s Pilates and Yoga experience showing through.)
- The secret of youth is a long front body – The hip joints rotated forward and butt tucked-in so your torso is on top of your legs not cantilevered forward. This also helps you to “fall forward” in a comfortable stride. And look good doing it.
- The feet articulate – flexing through the heel strike and toe push-off. Turns out feet are important to balance. The side-to-side flex and strength across the forefoot is how we make a lot of the micro balance adjustments.
Arms Belong to the Back
Our favorite of these? The double entendre of Arms belong to the back. Drawing the arms back and shoulders down seems to adjust all the other body parts. Thanks to Carol? We now find ourselves conscious of posture when walking and sitting. We check ourselves and each other when out for a walk with the dog. “Are your shoulders back?” And as a result, are experiencing fewer aches and pains. For instance, Dan’s mid-back hotspot under the shoulder blade, next to the spine, is less aggravated now. And sciatica pain went away. Keeping arms to the back and head aligned makes a real and positive difference. The result? Balance like a dancer.
Carol promises that practice balancing will build strength and improve flexibility. For us, the plan works.
The book starts with a test of your current state of balance. A hint? Standing with your eyes closed is harder at sixty-something than twenty-something. Feel the sway. Hey, is the Earth moving? How comfortable are you with instability? It’s not unusual to discover you’re over-relying on your sense of vision for balance feedback and stability. Practice balancing will help restore feedback channels through your muscles and inner ear.
Everyday Habits, Not Gym Rat
The exercises are a combination of flexibility stretches, simple strengthening moves (like heel raises), and practice balancing. Like most things in life? Practice leads to improvement. Disuse to atrophy. But what sets Carol’s exercises apart? They don’t require going to the gym. Most are just incorporated into everyday activities. Like waking up in bed in the morning now starts with a couple of basic stretches. Nothing here requires conversion to a gym rat. The exercises build on each other and reflect current best thinking about making improvements by small changes in habits. Ala, James Clear’s, Atomic Habits. (Another book in our Aging With Freedom® Book Club.)
Dad Would Be So Impressed
So, finally, we have a system that really improves posture and balance. Carol’s system or plan makes it easy to build up strength, flexibility, and ultimately balance. Dad would be so impressed. No longer do we need to stand up against a wall to figure out what “stand up straight” means. And Carol doesn’t require a, “Yes, Sir, or No Ma’am,” response.
Good Posture and Dynamic Balance
It was discouraging looking for media to illustrate this article. Photos illustrating bad posture were far more common than good posture. What does bad posture look like? Bad posture and poor balance warning signs:
- Head down and forward (not the helium balloon head)
- Shoulders rolled forward with a sunken chest (not arms belong to the back and open chest)
- Hips cantilevered over the legs straining the lower back (not hips rotated forward to create that long, youthful torso connecting upper and lower body with counterbalancing stomach muscle engagement)
Where’s the power pose of Superman or Wonder Woman? The power pose illustrates the energy of dynamic balance in movement and all of Carol’s mantras from Better Balance for Life. And it’s the rare exception. Apparently, superheroes learn to balance like a dancer. So should we.
Balance Like a Dancer — Not Just for the Elderly
Carol’s subtitle, “Banish the Fear of Falling (with Simple Activities Added to Your Everyday Routine)” suggests that the book is aimed at the very elderly. Don’t be fooled. We’re a lithe sixtyish, still slender and energetic. The program makes sense for us too. We don’t have to wait till we’re eighty-something and afraid of falling. Now’s as good a time as any to focus on balance and the movement triple play. The system will help you restore lost function. But it also helps you keep and improve functional balance. Bottom line? Aging with Freedom recommends Better Balance for Life. With unexpected enthusiasm. For a relatively short book? Big impact and memorable. Hey, you. Arms belong to the back! You’ll feel more planted. Carol’s dance experience pays in an easy-to-understand and apply system for improving daily habits for balance.